A Year and a Half in London: A Guest Post by Carolina Baker

A guest post by Carolina Baker who can be found on Facebook and writing in her blog, Falling to Fly

carolina

This month marks my year and a half of living in London and surprisingly, it’s starting to feel a bit more like home. Maybe this has been a catalyst for the new risks that I find myself taking on an almost daily basis. Some may seem small, but life changing change starts with small, daily, changes.

Here’s how my life has become more London based than ever before.

Daily Java Jolt – I used to be a daily Starbucks fanatic. Until, I discovered the deliciousness that is Monmouth Coffee. I was enthralled by the smell, the care, the queue, and the taste of their coffee. A few weeks later, Evan introduced me to Taylor Street Baristas  and I was also hooked. Since giving up Starbucks altogether, my effort to visit different places around London has doubled. I’ve exposed my taste buds to wonderful things like salt beef bagels, salted caramel cakes, and organic mountain eggs.

Meetup.com – A few weeks ago, I was restless, I wanted to meet new people, and I needed inspiration. I took the plunge with Meetup. I found a great writing and reading group, and I immediately signed up for their events. Before I go any further, I need to confess that even though I come across as extremely confident, meeting new people and putting myself in situations where I have to interact with strangers scare me. The days of the events, I found multiple excuses not to go, (“I have to get on the tube,” “I’m tired,” “It’s raining,” “work delayed me”) and the only reason I didn’t listen is because I bartered with my fear. I told my fear that I only had to show up. And we both agreed that the act of showing up was pretty harmless. Once I was there, speaking to people was pleasant.

Yesterday, I even got my writing critiqued and the feedback was positive. And a fellow member asked me if I was going to stay after for a drink. I declined, but made a promise to myself, that next time, I will stay and socialize. On Thursday, I’m having lunch with a fellow member who is also itching for life change. I’m proud of myself because I’m the one who reached out and I am the one who organized the date.

A great consequence of traversing London for these meetups is that I’m becoming more comfortable finding my way through the city. First time visits do require a printed google map, but I can usually rely on memory for any meetups that come afterwards. I’m also enjoying checking out new venues (shooting star pub, tidbits, and Timberyard) that I probably wouldn’t have stumbled upon on my own.

I guess my first year in London was all about healing myself and my finances, and for that, I needed to keep my focus inward. I had a simple routine that included walking to work, exercising, working full-time, and travel. Since taking care of the fundamentals, this year’s focus is about exploring my home city and meeting people that inspire me to propel my life to the next level.  In doing so, I know that my ties to London will always remain strong, even after Evan and I leave the city for South America.

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Guest Post: Carolina Baker’s Letter to London

Written by Carolina Baker who landed in London in November, a bit bleary eyed and nostalgic for what was formerly home. She’s Colombian American and loves Chai Lattes. During the day, she works in finance and at night she can be found blogging at GirlHabits or working out at Crossfit Thames.

Dear London,

The hardest thing for me upon arriving was feeling foreign.

Your baristas in Canary wharf didn’t know me, so they just took my order without smiling or even nodding. Your employee’s jokes I didn’t understand, so I just nodded my head and tried very hard to not space out. Your people’s wardrobes of grey and black didn’t match my own, so my pink coat and pink bag were very ill-matched. Your food was different and a bit bland, so I spent ages choosing what not to eat for lunch. Your General Practitioner made me go see him three times to get my blood test results;  Your people really like to say no; Your letting agencies took their sweet old time with our rental; Your people don’t really like to talk loud; You aren’t home to many Latins, so as a Colombian, I felt different in a loud and exotic kind of way.

But now, your baristas in Canary wharf are starting to warm up to me. Nobody can resist a smile, a “have a nice day,” a pink coat, or someone who orders an Iced Drink for long. We chat about how cold it is outside (really?), and how happy we are that it’s Friday, and that to me, is what I call, progress. Even though my wardrobe hasn’t changed and neither has your peoples’, they are starting to understand me as a bubbly and bright American. I found a way to get your people to talk and that’s by asking question after question, so that’s what I do. Your food hasn’t gotten better, unfortunately, but I’ve narrowed it down to having eggs for breakfast and an iced chai (no water!), a chopped salad for lunch (in which I’m only allowed one egg…), and cooking something from Waitrose for dinner during the week, and trying out random restaurants on the weekends; (Wahaca is a winner; Mestizo restaurant is…not). But your Crossfit Thames is quite amazing and reminds me of my brother every time I go work out; it’s like a home away from home. Your GPs I haven’t gotten used to, but they are teaching me the importance of patience, as there really is no better way to deal with a different medical care system. Your people respond well to being challenged, something that is completely unexpected. And I still talk loudly when given the opportunity. I smile whenever I hear Latin Spanish on the DLR, on the tube, or on random London Streets.

And while it’s important for me to have you feel like home, being here is more monumental than creating a routine that is fulfilling. You feel like an open door, inviting me in. You are a breath of fresh air; a brand new perspective. You are patient with me as I stop idolizing my past and start treading lightly on my present, and with more purpose on my future.  You are introducing me to people and situations that will alter the course of my life, and for that, I’m forever grateful. You are showing me that choosing different is better than not choosing at all, and that sometimes, it’s necessary to jump and feel what it’s like to free fall. Your ground is sturdy and its caught me quite a few times. And you know what? I’ve managed to brush myself off and get back up again.

So before I forget, I thank you. For taking me away from New York and for showing me a new way of life.

Warmly,

Carolina

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If you’d like to guest post about London for LLO, drop me a line: stephanie.sadler@hotmail.co.uk

Guest Post: Good Bye London

Words and photo by Ramble who came from India to enjoy the little things London had to offer for a while. She blogged here about her London experience, but now it’s time for her to move on to the next adventure. She wanted to share her goodbye to London with us.

Your assorted collection of people from all over the world, your cold rainy mornings which give an excuse to crib, the kiss of smooth snow on your grumpy old roads, the haughty rail tracks which boast about being your arteries, your toddlers who have a secret religion of waving and smiling at every passing stranger, your manicured leafy parks who put on unconvincing make up to try a hand at idyllic beauty…what am I going to miss most about you?

They were wrong. You weren’t fake, gloomy, cold or soulless; nor were you overflowing with riches and opportunities. You couldn’t afford to give me even the meanest of wages. You were so poor that you had to sell everything at exorbitant prices.

And, you weren’t a city which will just be a mild drizzle over wax, leaving every thing the same as before. You do know to leave your mark without colouring it with loud melodrama and tantrums. The split seconds which makes one age as old as the chronicled calendar years, leaving behind the vestiges of teenage carefully wrapped and carried into a decade of adult hood…. the moments which remind that being a traveller means having faith in the kindness of strangers….the warm sun of your autumn and the cool breeze of your summer which reassures that home is a place within one’s heart…. Well, there is much that you have given, beyond the limits of shoddy ‘thank you’ notes.

So, good bye from one among the ‘platform’ souls, we who are always waiting for a few wheels to make a journey to somewhere else. Always acquiring only that much which can be left behind.

And, try to be kind to those who come in, saluting yet another flag, mouthing yet another piece of jingoism, swearing allegiance to yet another ‘invincible’ nation, learning yet another ‘great’ language….. so as to call a few feet of land ‘home’.

Guest Post: 5 Unique Free London Activities

Written by Yuli Linssen-Kaminitz. Yuli is originally from Israel but has been living in Holland for the last couple of years with her Dutch husband. London has always seemed to her like a tempting place to run away to which might have to do with the fact that her mother used to live here when she was the same age as Yuli is today…

London is one of the most vibrant cities in Europe with an unlimited number of museums, more than 100 theaters, the famous royal family, numerous vintage shops and of course Kate Moss. Even though London attracts more than 27 million tourists a year, many people from outside Europe still find it an extremely expensive destination to visit.

In order to make life easier for those of you who cannot afford to go to on a shopping spree or watch three theatre shows in a row, here are my top 5 free things to do in the city:

1. Speakers’ corner
Cumberland Gate Park Lane, North East corner of Hyde Park, London W1K 7TY, United Kingdom – 07533 098 035
Open Sun 12pm-7:30pm

Not only this attraction is free of charge, it is also worth visiting regardless! Where else would you be able to listen to extremely passionate people talking about their beliefs, ideas, conspiracy theories and rough opinions?  In 1872, Parliament decided to allow public speaking in the north-eastern corner of London’s Hyde Park. People from all over the country gathered to raise their important issues – the main discussions were: politics, religion, the economic situation and more. Until this day, every Sunday you will be able to witness people standing on small chairs in Hyde Park and lecturing the crowd.

2. Primrose Hill
Primrose Hill, Primrose Hill Road, Primrose Hill, NW3 3NA

This is the perfect spot to chill out, have a pleasant picnic and watch the spectacular sunset. Located in the north side of Regent’s Park, Primrose hill not only offers the most magnificent view of the city, the district which surrounds it is full of cozy cafes, trendy restaurants, tiny pubs and shopping streets. Start your day with getting a tan in the sun and finish it with a glass of wine. There is even a chance you will come across a celebrity such as Gwen Stefani, Jude Law and Ewan McGregor; all of them are extremely fond of this place.

3. National Theatre Square
South Bank, London, SE1 9PX

The National Theatre Square offers three different vast auditoriums where more than 20 productions are being played per year!  Even though most of the shows do cost money to enter, you would be pleasantly surprise to discover how many free performances are offered monthly. During the whole summer until September 26 you will be able to enjoy for free the spectacular outdoor theatre- “Watch This Space Festival”. This wonderful event includes: extraordinary circus, brilliant dancers, acrobatic performances and many more.

4. Richmond Park
Holly Lodge TW10 5HS

Richmond Park is located in Richmond, West London. It is extremely hard to believe that such an astonishingly beautiful nature area is just 12 miles away from central London! This breathtaking Royal Park is the biggest in London; it covers 2,500 acres of complete beauty and total freedom for the wild animals. Walking there, witnessing the deer running free and listening to the sound of birds, will make you feel like you are not in the UK but in a far away country which words cannot describe how striking is it.

5. Sunday UpMarket and the Backyard Market
Ely’s Yard (entrances on Brick Lane & Hanbury Street), The Old Truman Brewery London E1

Both of these markets are sort of hidden hotspots in the city. They are quite alternative and most of the people there are locals. The Backyard market, (open Sunday from 11am till 6pm and Saturday from 10am to 5pm) offers exceptional fashion from young, talented and upcoming designers. Even though the stalls do not offer free treats, you will surly enjoy strolling around and be inspired by the fashion forward clothes, one of a kind jewellery and the distinctive arts & craft treasures. The Sunday UpMarket which is located right next to the Backyard Market is similar with its unique fashion items, funky vibe and colorfulness. The major point of distinction from its neighboring market is the famous food area: Tempting cupcakes, Turkish and Moroccan homemade delicious meals, Spanish paellas, sushi and many more! The best part is: free tasting is offered to everyone!

Yuli works for EasyToBook.com, which specializes in discount rates on hotels all over the world that range from simple motels all the way up to celebrated 5-star venues. For more information about hotels in London, visit their site.

Guest Post: Africa’s Sweetest Voices in London

Written by Efemena Agadama, a poet and playwright, originally from Nigeria, who is working on his first novel. 
He normally contributes articles to
his Amnesty International blog.

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“The man who can dominate a London dinner table can dominate the world.” – Oscar Wilde

From top left: Lily Mabura and Namwali Serpell;
From bottom left: Alex Smith, Olufemi Terry, and Ken Barris

As London remains the global city of literature, where the great minds of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, George Elliot, Oscar Wilde, Dickens, Milton, and Keats once held sway, the sweet voices of Africa shortlisted for the 2010 Caine Prize for Africa Writing converged at the prestigious Travel Bookshop at Notting Hill on July 3, 2010.

But this time around, it wasn’t the flag of the English literature that they hoisted, though with due respect to the English literature.  It was the brightly coloured rainbow flag of the sweet African literature; the literature where words of wisdom, onomatopoeic rhythms, drama and compact plots entwine to weave the beautiful honeycomb of a unique world literature that has been the love of other world literatures.

And the revered voices were Namwali Serpell, Alex Smith, Olufemi Terry, Ken Barris and Lily Mabura.  Oh! It was a lovely and endearing gathering.  They were so humble and social that you wouldn’t be able to identify them.  Even I couldn’t identify them.  However, I guessed on one – Namwali Serpell.  As soon as she entered with all smiles, complexion of a mixed race, pretty hair style and a modest gown, she hugged two members of the audience at the front row, and I was behind at the third row.  In fact, I felt hugged too.  I felt her hugging me with her pretty smiles.  And when she smiled at them, I still felt she was smiling at me.  Please, don’t laugh at me.  The aura of the African literature that the five shortlisted writers brought into The Travel Bookshop auditorium could make anyone feel hugged in such a situation.  Now I understand why people used to fight over Michael Jackson’s shirt during performance.  Look at me fighting over a hug in my spirit.

After a while, the moderator, Saara Marchadour hit the drum for the music of the day to begin.  She in her modesty asked them one after the other to read excerpts from their shortlisted entries.  Ken Barris started the drumming.  He stood up and began reading from his “The Life of Worm.”  Its reading had the professionalism of a news caster.  He cleverly alternated his eyes between the script and the audience.  Alex Smith read hers “Soulmates” with a very emotional tone; Sharp, clear and with subtle demonstrative cues of drama.  As she read, one could hear the words like the rendition of an actress on Shakespeare Globe Theatre during the performance of Macbeth this past June.  Olufemi Terry had a louder voice.  I think his body build added substance to his voice – softly audacious.  Then Namwali read from her “Muzungu”.  She read with a dramatic flow and a clear voice.  As she read one could see a reflection of all her travellings in her rising and falling tone.  And the fifth shortlisted writer, Lily Mabura with her creative candour, gave us a noble background to her story and set the fire aglow to signal the end of the reading sessions.

Thereafter, the respected and famous Saara Marchadour of the Travel Bookshop interviewed them on the stories and inspiration behind their shortlisted works.  And she opened the floor for audience members to ask questions.

It was lovely and very exciting.  Just being in the presence of these great writers is like being locked in a small room with a million and a million of Shakepeare, Wordsworth, Soyinka, Achebe and Coetzee.  These shortlisted writers have really re-hoisted the African literature flag in London and it now flies higher.  Really, London remains the world’s leading city in Arts and Literature.